On Self-Care and Being Okay with Not Being Okay

by Samantha Marie Haynes This past summer I spent two months in the beautiful Okanagan region of British Columbia, Canada volunteering,...

by Samantha Marie Haynes

This past summer I spent two months in the beautiful Okanagan region of British Columbia, Canada volunteering, practicing yoga, and trying to find some personal peace after two tumultuous years living in Washington, D.C.

I had planned to seriously take up writing opinion pieces to hone my skills as I cautiously entered the realm of freelance consulting. My first topic would be replacing social studies with social justice in elementary school curricula. However, I found doing multiple projects to be too tasking. I had spent the last six years working full-time and going to college full-time, yet I couldn’t handle what I had put on my plate this past summer. I began to really look at how much time I was spending on things: 3 hours a week volunteering at the local museum, 4 volunteering with a women’s shelter, 4 hours doing an energy exchange at a fitness studio, 5 hours on yoga classes, and a remaining 12 hours getting this whole “consulting” thing to become a reality. That left me with a lot of time to work on this article, but I couldn’t get myself to translate my big ideas for changing the way we think about social justice work into words. Instead of feeling motivated to get my creative juices flowing, I often felt lethargic, sad, depressed.

I would often have to wipe away tears and take a few deep breaths before putting on a smile when meeting up with people. I had expected this summer to heal my wounds from losing my older brother and deciding to put grieving on hold for two years while I finished grad school.

I had told myself I would do absolutely nothing but relax this summer. But I didn’t. I was too afraid of what others might say. I didn’t want to let down my family by not jumping headfirst into a 9-to-5 and kicking off a "career" as a traditional “non-profit professional.” Along with this, I hadn’t surrounded myself with people conducive to my healing. While people can love us, they may not always love and appreciate us the way in which we need them. I realize this now, but I didn’t realize this two months ago. I exhausted a lot of energy on living for someone else’s happiness despite my own being compromised. I convinced myself that if I let go more and more of what I wanted and needed for the benefit of others, I would eventually begin to feel better.

After a while, I began to see some irony in the predicament surrounding my writer’s block. An important tenet in social justice theory is the practice of self-care. I was exerting a lot of my energy, love, and time on others and hardly any on myself. I’m certain that in the process of ignoring my own needs, I probably wasn’t doing a good job in my freelancing, volunteering, or nascent yoga journey. I probably wasn’t being the best friend or partner I could be either.

But what really is self-care anyway? Commission for Social Justice Educators Blog sums it up nicely, explaining why self-care is so important for those of us that are agents of social change:
Self-care refers to activities and practices that one can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and enhance our short- and longer-term wellness. [There is also], self-love [which] involves loving oneself; we must care about, take responsibility for, respect, and know ourselves. As social justice educators, it is incredibly important to practice self-love. 
But how can we re-learn to care for ourselves when we have lost the ability to do so? I wish I could say that I burst through the dense fog of depression overnight, but I can’t. It is a long, arduous task. Meditation truly helped; which I learned how to do skillfully with the help of the lugubriously compassionate and patient yoga instructors I met while in Canada. Meditation and yoga help me manage my thoughts and also take care of my body, which for so long has also been affected by depression. These skills also allow me to affirm what I know to be true. I choose simple, affirming phrases for my meditating such as “I love myself” and “things will get better for me”.

The next major step was opening myself up (again) to seeking out a therapist to work with me through my depression. I was raised in a culture that shunned mental health, so I am still actively working on my fear and shame associated with embracing psychology as medicine. Finally, I suppose the biggest revelation was re-establishing that I’m still awesome and worthy of love from myself and others. I don’t have to feel bad that I’m still missing and crying over my brother two years later. It’s understandable that I often feel scared and hopeless. People that shame us for our complicated battles with depression are not worthy of our time, I’ve learned.

I’ll always have myself no matter what. Therefore, I must always treasure the gift that is self-love, and self-care. I try to be the friend to myself that I know I deserve. And honestly, just being able to live for me and not for others has helped me immensely. Three months after initially starting this article, I am probably the happiest I’ve been since my brother’s passing. I’ve surrounded myself with nurturing and understanding individuals that support me in my healing, rather than shame me. When people I care about are supportive of me, it allows me to also be supportive of them. Those of us that are engaged in doing social justice work too often put others before ourselves. We need to remember that if we want to continue to do good work, we must take care of ourselves first. We matter just as much as the people we love and want to help. Now, I carry these thoughts with me as a source of comfort. And though I know I will continue to feel down from time to time, I have realized it’s not my fault. No matter how down depression gets me, I still matter. I still am worthy of love.

This piece originally appeared on Medium. It has been reposted with permission from the author.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Samantha Marie Haynes is a non-profit fangirl with a passion for poetry, spoken word, and citizen journalism. She eats social innovation for breakfast, and has a Afromestizaje state of mind. She received a B.A. from New York University and an M.P.A. from George Washington University.

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